Haunted Mansion Holiday Review
In the beginning of the 21st century the Haunted Mansion was 30 years old. The classic attraction wasn’t losing any steam in popularity, but the ride was showing it’s age. There needed to be something that could give new found “life” to the attraction, yet still keep the artistic quality and standards of the source material as well as create an excellent atmosphere. The Imagineers’ answer was a crossover of two similar, but different Disney properties. The Mansion and Tim Burton’s the Nightmare Before Christmas. The stop motion animated film was seeing an increase in popularity outside of it’s cult following and presented a great marketing opportunity as well. The attraction would combine elements from both properties and create a festive atmosphere of fear and cheer that had that kind of spooky and magical environment that only the Mansion could offer. Purists scoffed at the idea, but then again these same people scoffed at the collaborations between George Lucas and Disney and look how awesome those turned out. Final Fantasy fans scoffed at Square Enix collaborating with Disney for Kingdom Hearts and we all know how awesome that turned out as well. The point is “don’t knock it till you’ve tried it”. The crossover was treated with artistic integrity and respect. The Imagineers knew that Jack Skellington was a great character, but knew that if he overstayed his welcome the “spirit” of the original would be lost so they made it strictly seasonal. Also this was a complete revamping as opposed to sticking the Pumpkin King in a few locations and calling it macaroni like another Disney Jack we all know. These efforts and dedications paid off and Haunted Mansion Holiday is one of the most popular seasonal attractions and events ever! This is the Haunted Mansion Holiday!
CONCEPT AND STORY
Due to the fact that the original Haunted Mansion (especially at this time in 2001) had no real story it was really flexible to the timeless and charming story the Imagineers had in mind for the event. The story is basically a twisted riff on the classic Christmas tale “T’was the Night Before Christmas” also riffed in the title of Nightmare. As guests tour the Mansion the Ghost Host tells a narration (in rhyme no less) of the classic story except with Jack as “Sandy Claws” and the setting being the Mansion. The story is short sweet and charming in a twisted sort of way. It feels timeless and dreamlike in it’s own right and the iconic Mansion imagery decorated to fit the theme is done very tastefully and the Happy Haunts seem to genuinely have a good time helping Jack with his spooky Christmas. A great thing that sells the story is the cast. Corey Burton through his imitation skills as well as vocal alteration technology gives a warm, yet slightly sinister narration as the Ghost Host and he sounds almost identical to Paul Frees. Also Chris Sarandon returns as the Pumpkin King himself and gives a great excited performance especially because Jack’s original vision of his Christmas is coming true due to the help of the Mansion residents.
The best part about this event though is its music! There are actually two separate scores for the attraction. One was done by Gordy Goodwin. This score was used during the first two years of the event. The other was a score that was remixed by John Debny (the same guy who worked on Phantom Manor’s music) that featured a medley of the original Nightmare film score by Danny Elfman. Both scores are very good and have their own charms and magical moments, but I prefer Goodwin’s score. It just seemed more timeless, magical and dreamlike. It suited the “T’was the Night” atmosphere and themes much better. Plus it utilized classic Christmas songs as well as the classic Grim Grinning Ghosts while the other version hardly uses the classic Buddy Baker theme. There are also moments of the Debny/Elfman version that just don’t jive with the graveyard scene. Another thing is I felt that by adding the film score it damaged the delicate balance that Goodwin’s score had. Goodwin’s score balanced the two holiday themes and Nightmare and Mansion themes really well, but the other one has the movie overstep it’s artistic bounds. It feels that with the addition of the score that that is a true unartistic cash in on the movie’s popularity which was huge at the time it was added. I like both scores, but the one that served the concept and themes better was the original Goodwin score. Here’s an easter egg for you the music that’s heard while standing in the queue is actually the music box heard in the gazebo at Phantom Manor. That’s where the music originated. Now I’ll let you judge whether the Goodwin score is better or not by showing you a ridethrough with the movie music in place and an audio only version of Goodwin’s score.
The art direction and designs are absolutely fantastic! The attention to detail is amazing! The creative designs of the decorations perfectly capturing the spirit of both holidays are really nice to look at. I’m just amazed at the scale of the decorations and all the effort that goes into the conversion every September and in January. That alone deserves praise.
I believe that this is one of the smartest ideas that WDI has ever had. The concept is imaginative and captures the spirit of two holidays extremely well. As successful as it is not all Mansions have adopted the seasonal event. Florida doesn’t have the Haunted Mansion Holiday and I don’t know why. Tokyo has it because of the huge popularity of Nightmare in Japan. Phantom Manor understandably doesn’t and SHOULDN’TÂ have it because that attraction is way too rooted in it’s story to be flexible for the crossover, but it does have a softer Holiday remix, but the set and story haven’t been altered! A great event for a great attraction! Join me next time where I become a historian/ biographer and travel to the ghost town of Thunder Mesa to did into the lives of it’s wealthiest family, The Ravenswoods. I take a look at the tragedy of the town and the family to help explain the mysteries surrounding the family mansion called Phantom Manor!!! See you then!
VERDICT: 4.7 garlands made of iron chains out of 5